This is the story of my journey as a man – moving from shame, silence, and secrecy to a powerful place of integrity, courage, and connection. A journey that will last a lifetime. I share my story as an invitation for each of us to sit with our fears and discover our own path toward a life of deep purpose, empathy, and authenticity. It’s time we step up and begin the challenging work of transforming our culture of violence into a culture of love, starting from within our own hearts.This is a call for the rise of wholehearted men.
Sharing My Story
I published One Man’s Journey: How I Quit Porn and Why I’m Not Going Back on my friend Jamie Utt’s blog two days before Valentine’s Day. I had struggled for weeks to work up the courage to write and share such a personal and vulnerable part of my life story, but in my heart I knew that it had to be shared. But damn! I was nervous. On that quiet February morning, after a few final edits, I finally took the leap and posted it on Facebook. I could never have prepared myself for what happened next.
In just a few hours, over 40 of my friends had shared the post on their walls and conversations about pornography, sexuality, and addiction were springing up all across my network. I was surprised that so many people were willing to host such a tough conversation on their facebook walls. Over the next few days, dozens of shares turned to hundreds, thousands, and soon over 10,000 shares on Facebook.
The conversation caught fire and spread quickly, and it seemed everyone had a position on the issue. Soon, other blogs took notice and the post was republished on The Good Men Project, Everyday Feminism, and YES! Magazine. Several weeks later, over 100,000 people had read it. I couldn’t keep up with the comments, and stories started pouring in from people all around the country and the world. One of the most prevalent themes that was emerging was shame.
Navigating Shame & Hypocrisy
Pornography, as a topic of conversation, is largely shrouded in secrecy on the one hand, and yet culturally normalized on the other. “Boys will be boys” and “everyone watches porn,” I’ve often heard people say. What I’ve found is that there is rarely ever space within this narrow dichotomy for any real, truthful exploration of the impacts of porn on our lives and relationships. And this astonishing absence of authentic communication with regard to such a prevalent and painful issue seems to create a feedback loop of normalization, dismissal, and ultimately addictive behavior, which is spiraling out of control on a massive scale.
This pattern appears to be supercharged by a society that mixes puritanical notions of sexuality with gender-based shame to create a perfect storm of sexual guilt, fear of intimacy, and unexpressed sexual energy that desperately needs an outlet. I was driven to consume pornography partially as an outlet for the enormous inexpressible tension that I felt in my body. But expressing my sexuality in this way actually took me out of my physical body and, over time, created a barrier to true intimacy.
This escape from intimacy was really just one more defense mechanism to ‘protect’ me from the inherent vulnerability of true connection. At times, watching porn certainly felt like a safer way to express my sexuality than having to navigate the emotional complexity of an actual real-life partnership. But I always felt that something was missing.
After my year without porn, I realized that what was most painfully missing was my sense of integrity. The domination, objectification, and sexism that I was witnessing in many of the porn videos was not in alignment with my personal values. And feeling my porn habit moving further and further out of my control made it difficult for me to love and trust myself. I fell into a subtle depression, marked by a general numbness and lack of joy in my life.
I began experiencing a sort of spiritual cognitive dissonance, a trance that held me down in a dark place of shame that fueled an addictive behavioral cycle in my life. But I couldn’t even see any of this at the time. I just knew something didn’t feel right.
I had to face the fact that what I valued and how I behaved were, in the case of pornography, painfully incongruent. The truth was, I was a hypocrite. Regardless of what I wanted to believe about myself. And, let me tell you, there is nothing in this existence that has ever pulled me deeper into shame than being called out as a hypocrite. That’s the worst.
And yet, paradoxically, owning that reality was the key that unlocked the door out onto this new path of integrity and wholehearted living. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. And I couldn’t have done it alone.
Asking for Help
Secrecy is what sustains shame. And shame fuels addiction. Open and honest conversations are the antidote to shame because they give us space to speak the truth about our experiences, to see that we’re not alone, and to reach out for support.
There is no way I could have achieved my goal of 1 year without porn if I hadn’t asked a dear friend of mine to hold me compassionately accountable to that goal.
If I ever felt that I was on the verge of breaking my personal commitment, I knew I could call him. And, because I shared my goal with a person who I deeply respect, I knew that I would do whatever it took to stay the course.
This combination of fierce accountability and compassionate support gave me the strength to make it through the year, and beyond – I’m grateful to say that I’m still porn-free today. And, it all started with the vulnerable act of identifying the problem and reaching out for support.
I had to look at my shame before I could transform my addiction. I had to admit to myself that there was a problem before I could begin healing, re-sensitizing, and reconnecting with the man I truly am. I had to allow myself the chance to speak the truth, and not let that truth pull me even deeper into shame. I had to practice compassion. And I had to celebrate my successes along the way, to keep the momentum – and my commitment – strong. This combination of honesty, self-awareness, commitment, and celebration helped me transform my life. And it all started with having the courage to be vulnerable.
Vulnerability = Courage
By putting myself out there in such a raw and vulnerable way, I had anticipated experiencing what Brene Brown calls a “vulnerability hangover” – where I would experience some kind of nervous breakdown and then never be the same again. And, while I never experienced that breakdown, I can say with 100% certainty that I’ll never be the same again.
Instead of experiencing a hangover, I felt a pulsing sense of joy and fulfilment in my heart unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I felt powerful, capable, and alive – as if every cell in my body was screaming “Yes! THIS is who you truly are!” I was living my life’s mission full-out and it felt incredible. I was no longer bearing the weight of secrecy. I had nothing to hide!
For the next 6 weeks, I felt high pretty much 24/7, riding a wave of abundant love, gratitude, and joy – grounded in a deep sense of alignment with my life’s purpose. I can only describe it as a feeling of electrifying joy, grounded presence and peaceful contentment, rippling into every part of my life.
I sit in a men’s circle with about 10 guys from my community where we hold space for one another to share our feelings and life experiences in safe and authentic ways. For months prior to sharing my story with the world, I remember often coming to the circle with feelings of sadness and numbness.
Now, all I wanted to do was scream for joy at the top of my lungs. Seriously, I could barely even contain myself during our meetings; all I wanted to do was jump up, give each of the guys a big huge hug, and then run off into the streets to proclaim my god-given right to love and be loved! I was on fire. And it all started when I was willing to admit to myself that I was out of integrity with the man I wanted to be, and when I was willing to trust – without any guarantee – that a deeper, more authentic life was waiting for me on the other side of my fears.
Transforming Shame Into Power
In sharing my story, I discovered that I could take one of my deepest, darkest, most shameful secrets and turn it into an unprecedented source of creativity, connection and personal power in my life. How fucking awesome is that?! I felt as though I had been re-born, reawakened, alive again for the very first time. And I couldn’t wait to share it with the world!
And so I am. By living courageously from my vulnerable truth, I stumbled into what may well be one of my life’s greatest callings: To activate and support the rise of wholehearted men – learning and leading by example. I’m launching this blog as a home for this unfolding life work – a laboratory for the practice of wholehearted living. Let’s share our stories, question old cultural norms and explore the incredible power of healthy vulnerability.
I’m calling for you to join us. I’m calling in a whole movement of us rising up together to transform our shame into personal power, connection, and authentic expression. Where our stories disintegrate the barriers between us and open up space for the healing that is so desperately needed in our world today.
Imagine what we will do together from a place of collective integrity, when we are willing to be honest with ourselves and others. When we are able to feel perfect in our imperfections, knowing that every hidden fear within us can become a bridge to connection with others. Simply because our vulnerability makes us human. It makes us who we are.
What will life look like when we awaken all of our senses to the untold beauty and abundance of our existence? As heros of our own journey, ready to take the next bold step in our lives. Ready to collectively write the next chapter in the coming-of-age story of humanity.
Let’s make it happen..
Thanks for reading! What can you do now?
1. Add a comment below (what did this post bring up for you? What do you plan to do?)
2. Share this post with friends on Facebook and Twitter (let’s grow the movement!)
3. Set a goal for your own life (how will you experiment with healthy vulnerability today?)
4. Learn more about ‘men’s work’ (I recommend checking out the ManKind Project)
5. Is porn impacting your relationship? Send me your story! And I may include parts of it in a future blog post (names kept private, of course). Your story could help others dealing with these same issues. Together, we can overcome the silence and transform the shame. Together, we can build a world of fierce love, connection and authenticity.
Send your stories of failure and success to: [email protected]
With fierce loving compassion,
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Thank you for publishing this at this time. Right now l am trying to grow as a man and as a person. Its interesting that Vulnerablity=Courages showed up.There is a certain thing that l need to do that will set me free on almost all levels but terrifies me . I have been praying for the courage, faith and fear erasing now for awhile and l hope that soon i can beat a personal fear issue berfore more time is lost. One day l can perhaps share my experience as l am sure more men can relate then no.
Thanks again! Its been six days since last viewed porn. A and b have to come before x y z if that makes sense.
Thanks for sharing. Chances are, the thing you are most afraid of is something that many people experience. And that you are not alone, as you noted. Facing fear and shame can be the toughest thing we ever have to do…but it is also the most rewarding. My energy totally shifted when I finally let go of the burden of secrecy and stepped into my power as an imperfect man, committed to restoring my integrity whenever I loose it. The journey never ends, but I feel lighter, more present, and more powerful than ever before. If you feel like sharing with someone, down the road, hit me up at: [email protected]. I’ll keep your name confidential and ask you for permission before I share any of your story with anyone else. Be well
Dan, it’s wonderful to feel your passion and enthusiasm for this work. Welcome to the men’s movement! I too long for, support, and participate in creating an ethos of men standing up for and supporting each other in our full humanity, embracing difference and possibilities for transformation. There are so many ways of being full, healthy, and generative men in the world. We need to support each other in expanding the meaning of masculinity far beyond the heterosexual male norm. I too am grateful for my men’s group and for all the men who share in your courage.
Yes! Great to walk with you on this path, brother! Let’s keep each other strong. Thank you for all that you do.
With love and solidarity~
How do you recommend talking with a 15 year old boy when there is unbelievable, unlimited easy access to porn — on telephones even? How do we (as their moms or future lovers) let them know that porn is NOT REAL life. Real women are not like the images they see on screen. Making love is NOT the same as the “production of porn”. Where does the discussion of porn fit in with how to live a loving, connected life.
Hi Mia, thanks for your question. That is a really tough question. And I am AMAZED by the utter silence around teen porn use online – except for in religious circles. I would recommend telling him about this site: http://www.fightthenewdrug.org. It has a ton of great information about the impacts of pornography. And it’s geared toward teens. There is even a free “recovery program” which he could check out if he chose to do so: http://www.fightthenewdrug.org/get-help. This group is not religiously affiliated. I’ve spoken with them on the phone and I can say that I stand behind what they are up to. Don’t expect instant results…stay on his “team” – no shame, blame, or judgement. Just love and clear communication. Best of luck to you. And please let me know how it goes~
I read the key issues here as incongruence and sexual shame, not pornography: reflexively accepting consumerist crap without critical reflection or purpose.
I am a huge admirer of author and educator Susie Bright, and many years ago read her book Full Exposure: Opening Up to Sexual Creativity and Erotic Expression. One of the main take-aways I got from it was the need for *everyone* to “come out,” not just gays and lesbians and kinky people: to admit to themselves who they are and what they want and accept that enough to share it with themselves and those that matter to them.
The hardest part of sexuality is not squashing it but accepting it, and finding a way to live in integrity with what one wants it to be. For some people that will be no porn, for others selective porn, and others a commercial indifference. Self-restraint is likely to be part of the answer, as is self-expression, but both of those come best *after* self-knowledge and self-acceptance.
I agree that sexual shame is the core force at play here. Pornography is just one way (the main way) that our culture channels the overwhelming amount of unexpressed sexual energy that has no other place to go. Would pornography be as popular if we lived in a sex-positive culture? I doubt it. BUT, porn use is a major issue because it can spiral into addictive behaviors – as I have experienced first-hand. Since these behaviors are often rooted in secrecy and shame, users often find that their porn habit negatively affects their partnership. Not just because of the porn, but because of the mistrust that is often wound up in it. There are also a number of other impacts of pornography, which I speak to in this post: http://wholeheartedmasculine.org/how-i-quit-porn. I believe that any conversation about ending compulsive porn use must be accompanied with a conversation about how we can move back into our physical bodies and what positive sexuality can look like. I am 100% anti-sexual shame. People should be free to express their sexuality in any way/s that are consensual and clearly communicated between all parties involved. Self-knowledge and self-acceptance are always a great place to begin..
Wow Dan, thanks for writing and holding this space. I think another issue in the world of male porn addiction is the lack of any real education on sex. Not only do men watch porn out of sexual desire, but at least in my case, I also watch to learn how other people have sex, perhaps subconsciously thinking I am becoming a better lover by more visual exposure. This is obviously a pretty shitty way to learn how to make love, but as you mentioned, in the realm of cultural shame about sexuality, where else is there (with easy access) to learn about how to be a good love maker? This to me is a very serious issue as growing in my own sexual maturity, I am realizing my deep desire and need to unlearn what porn taught me, and relearn what good sex really means. But as a single male not in a position right now to have a consistent sexual partner (as I am traveling almost constantly), how could I learn this? To be honest, part of me wishes there was a cultural form of embodied sexual education (kind of like a prostitute, but completely flipped from illegal, dirty, and objectifying, to legal, beautiful and full of a learning connection). Wow, this now brings up lots of more questions for me regarding sex in general and its relationship/dependency on emotional intimacy. Is it just porn and hollywood that has taught us that these two can be separated, or is there room, especially in the life of a wholehearted male (which of course is one of integrity), to have sex not be something always linked to deep emotional connection?
thanks for your thoughts. First of all, I completely agree that the lack of positive/comprehensive sex education in this country significantly inhibits our ability to develop a healthy relationship with our own bodies and our sexuality. I also understand the idea that porn can seem like a last-ditch place to get that education (and learn about how to be sexual) when there is nothing else around. That is a scary thing, given how different porn sex can be compared to real sex. But watching porn isn’t the biggest issue in my view, addiction is. And the difficult thing is that porn use is a slippery slope to heaver use and, ultimately, addictive behaviors. This is a pretty good resource (though this one is aimed at teens): http://www.fightthenewdrug.org/get-the-facts#porn-is-like-a-drug. In my experience “unlearning what porn taught me” started with a commitment to a significant amount of time totally away from it. From that place, I have opened up space to experiment with authentic expressions of sexuality that I couldn’t even access when I was hooked on porn. No, I don’t believe that sex and emotional connection always need to be connected. As long as both parties act with full consent and clear communication, then casual sex can be a good thing for some people. Not everyone, though. Depends on who you are and what you’re looking for. Best of luck
Thanks for sharing your story and taking it as an opportunity to build conversation. Vulnerability = Courage, so true!
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People need to learn the true definition of empathy. Because the lack of it is realllly blowing my mind right about now…
Agreed, jre. How do you think people can best learn Empathy?
We learn empathy through service.
If we are out of our head and offering service to others, we create a bond of empathy and compassion. We also learn healthy detachment through the practice of service because we often need to serve those who don’t want it because of their own issues internally. We give because it’s our duty. Empathy building through service has saved me from many forms of selfishness – even if it’s only a short-lived effect of not living in my head for a few days, the empathetic residue remains and builds over time.
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He always kept talking about this. I will forward this write-up to him.
Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank
you for sharing!
Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it.
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Thanks. I’m glad to hear that you’ve found my writing to be valuable/helpful on your path. Take care~
Hey dan, thanks a lot for sharing this. I think one of the biggest things that you mention is the fact that the use of pornography lacks emotional connection and authenticity. Casual sex also lacks emotional connection and authenticity. The satisfaction you get from sex both physically and emotionally is so much greater when it is shared with someone who you love and trust, thats bottom line. An analogy i like to use for pornography and casual sex is fast food sex. Everybody has got to eat right? But what we choose to consume directly effects our physical and emotional health. In my experience, when I choose to experience fast food sex it is usually out of convenience, like so many other things in the culture we live in today (or anti culture) when you choose convenience it is almost always at the expense of some quality the thing in which you are experiencing posesses. In the case of fast food sex it is emotional connection, authenticity, and intimacy which you sacrifice, which happen to be the three most valuable emotional nutrients you can get from sex. We need these emotional nutrients to maintain a healthy mind and body. So i agree with you 100% and support you in your journey to quit consuming pornography. You are also right that, like fast food, pornography and casual sex can become addictive. In my own experience I have struggled in being content with one sexual partner, maybe this is because of my use of pornography and lack of emotional nutrients in my sexual diet. Either way, this has caused me to severely strain one of the most valuable relationships I have in my life with my girlfriend. I dont blame pornography, or this fast and loose culture we live in today, but I can definitely see how it has played a role in my decision making. All in all I know how pornography and casual sex makes me feel, and I know how the intimacy with my girl makes me feel, and there is no comparison. In my experience, part of growing as a man has been realizing and embracing that intimacy and human connection are far more important than sexual gratification, and when you have a relationship in which sexual gratification, intimacy, and authenticity can all be experienced together, why would you choose to experience something which lacks? Thats like ordering a delicious piece of pie with half the indgredients. Ive never tried that before, but I assume it tastes like shit. Anyway, I can relate to your struggle my friend, and I too am trying to nix fast food sex from my life. God bless bro!!!
Hey Andrew, thanks for your comment. And thanks for sharing your thoughts. I especially resonate with this: “when you have a relationship in which sexual gratification, intimacy, and authenticity can all be experienced together, why would you choose to experience something which lacks?” I’m glad you’ve gotten clear about which kinds of sexual relationships are most manful/fulfilling for you. It might be totally different for someone else, and that’s great too! I, for one, tend to resonate with your experience. As for porn, I didn’t realize how impactful it could be till I started doing some research. Here’s one of the best sites to find out more: http://yourbrainonporn.com. Clearly the impacts vary, person to person, but i feel they are significant enough to merit deeper conversation and self-reflection. So that’s what I’ve chosen to explore. To each their own; there is no right or wrong way to live! There is just a way that feels in integrity with who we know ourselves to be, on the deepest level. And following that path is the journey of a lifetime. Blessings to you, too~
This is an awesome project, Dan! It’s exhilarating to see other men working toward anti oppressive authenticity and vulnerability.
Thanks, Glenn. It’s an honor to be walking this path with brothers like you!
hi dan. i just want to say here since i can’t say it to any man i have been intimate with without being shamed, that women are starving for connection with men, but some of us are terrified. it is great that you are so excited, and it reminds me of the beginning of each relationship i’ve been in. the man has been so relieved to have someone to trust and open to and has invited me to love and support him, but when i have chosen to do so, he shuts down and emotionally or completely shuts me out and i’m left caring deeply for someone who has decided that my experience does not matter. i can understand this as i see them tearing off parts of themselves, so why should i think they would keep me in their integrity, but it is brutal and lonely and painful. i am saying this because i have been asking myself a lot lately how i can support the men i love when it comes at such a high risk to me personally. i know a lot of men fear that women will actually shame them for “being sensitive”. i don’t want to do that, and i want to acknowledge the landmines here. i want men to know that their sisters, lovers, mothers, daughters need them. we want you to show up as intact and aware as possible, and many of us do not trust you to follow through. so, be ready to hold space for our vulnerabilities around your explorations with vulnerability. so many of us (men and women, girls and boys) have already endured so much collateral damage that it feels impossible to bear more on a personal level even if it is clear that that is exactly what is needed on a collective level.
thank you for sharing. -Dan
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